A thin, blond hair girl in white dress, white stockings and white nursing shoes stepped into Clepper Manor for a short orientation. The days had to be on the weekend since week days I still had high school. I had been hired for afternoon shift, which suited this young girl fine. I soon found out, I had more to learn than clinical information. I woke up to maneuvering in personality landmines of diverse personalities with plots and subplots. I went thinking adults would act like adults. The reality that adults still act like children plunged me into the world.
I stared at a man getting bathed during orientation. He sat up with a bag on his abdomen, stool in the bag. I had never known that could be. I thought, wow!
I helped the RN with a crater of a wound on another man's buttocks. She showed me how they pasted a mixture of beta-dine and sugar, keeping a heat lamp on it. My job was to remind her when the time was up for the treatment.
One man had an extended scrotum. My eyes again could not keep from staring in the shower room. I've hardly seen any man naked and this was boggling. He also had dementia, so I had that to deal with.
I learned to straw feed a woman, who couldn't even drink from a cup. This was early on my afternoon shift, the nurse came in to show me how to get liquids in this unresponsive woman. Soon, her eyes fixated on the ceiling and the fluid pooled on her tongue. I called the nurse, who examined her. The nurse's eyes told me what I knew. The woman had died. She had been on her way out before I had to feed her, but I still became troubled by my first witnessed death.
As I said, though, my most permanent and important lesson came from dealing with all the people. The workers' envy, pride and cutting corners, along with their personal lives of chaos, sometimes, I hadn't encounter before this time in my life. The patients with dementia, some totally out of it and some very mild that I didn't pick up on it at first,taught me that people lose the thread to this world. One lady wandered into rooms and stole items. I liked her as she pleasantly talked to me, I found it hard to believe she did that.
A new resident wanted to go home so badly that every evening, she escaped up or down State Street. She lived in the upstairs with the residents who required less custodial care. I learned though, that though they could walk, they still sometimes weren't all there. When I had the upstairs assignment,I'd get a call, "Do you know where Mary is?" I found out I had to keep an eye on this crew. Finally, with the help of drugs, she stayed in her chair, but she didn't talk any more, either.
I had a hard time at first adjusting to being in charge of adults. The director of nursing called me into her office because I did let them make decisions slowing down my care. She pinpointed the problem as I sat down,"You have been taught to respect your elders." I had to learn that day, I was in the position of authority and even with patient's rights, I needed to guide them into good decisions.
The four months I worked there in the summer, though, I never dreaded going to work. I offered once to work a double, then I saw how much was taken out for taxes, the whole pay for the shift I worked.
I did enjoy days once in a while, but preferred sleeping in most days. The evening bells from St. Joseph's next door filtered through the open windows of the building with no air conditioning, lifting my spirit with the hymns. When I worked upstairs, one lady had her private room with a balcony overlooking the alley between the gray church and the manor. I would sit for a while on that porch as we talked about Jesus. I showed her my poems I had written, which she enjoyed and critiqued.
I lost weight that summer, as the work was physically hard, and the summer warm, so I sweated. I often ran through McDonald's new drive through on my way home at eleven, or I ate a whole box of crackers when I came home, sitting watching the end of the local news with my mother and father, telling them about my evening. I tried to walk or swim in the mornings before work. I relished the extended time to read my Bible and write by my open window in my room.
I look back on this summer with fond memories and at the end of it, I met David. I am happy to return to this place of employment. I anticipate joy in meeting new people, hearing new stories and helping. I have learned a lot in thirty four years, but love of people has only grown.